Have a question? These students have the answer


Courtesy of WGBH

AMSA’s Quiz Bowl team has reached the final of a tournament sponsored by Boston’s PBS affiliate. It will be televised on May 16.

A buzzer goes off and faces in the audience turn to see which one of four young experts signaled they have the answer to the question—asking, perhaps, for the capital of Burkina Faso (it’s Ougadougou, if you are wondering).

The lights in the room illuminate the faces of AMSA’s Quiz Bowl team. Although everyone seems to be on the edge of their seats, the Eagles remain cool and collected, as if this is second nature.

The vigorously competitive world of Quiz Bowl, in which teams of four answer general knowledge questions for points, might be stressful for most and challenging for all, but it is nothing out of the norm for this team.

“It’s a very competitive atmosphere,” said junior Shashank Madhu, adding that the competitive nature of the event is why he joined in the first place.

Quiz Bowl—at the “A team,” or varsity, level—is one of AMSA’s most elite clubs, usually with no more than 10 students overall on the team at a time, and they all work hard to maintain a prestigious reputation. It’s a challenge, but a top priority.

Over the past six months, AMSA has polished its stature and profile, qualifying for the High School National Championship Tournament in Chicago on May 30-31 and reaching the final of a tournament sponsored by PBS affiliate WGBH in Boston. The Eagles’ championship match against Newton North in the latter will be televised on May 16 at 6 p.m.

“We’re really excited for Chicago,” said history teacher Jessica Bowen, who is the Quiz Bowl team adviser. “It’s a much tougher circuit, and it’s a chance to compete against the best teams in the country.”

They might not be leaving for three weeks, but members of the team have already started preparing. It requires a lot of work to maintain that calm façade.

On the surface, it might seem simple: just buzz in and answer a trivia question. Like most things that seem simple, it’s actually more complicated.

A team of six students sign up prior to a competition in order to gain a spot on the roster. Usually, there are teams of four and two alternates who show up to see who just might be a future million-dollar champion on television’s “Jeopardy.”

Mrs. Bowen said that her own “inner know-it-all” played a big part in how the club even came to be.

Five members of the Quiz Bowl team with adviser Jessica Bowen after an event.
Courtesy of Jessica Bowen
Five members of the Quiz Bowl team with adviser Jessica Bowen after an event.

“You have to be the type of kid who enjoys being a know-it-all in order to be on the team, and that’s who these students are,” she said.

A question that baffles most students at AMSA is not how the team has become so successful but why—and more specifically why the team does what it does.

Although answering trivial facts seems like nothing but fun and games—something to do at a party maybe—the team members’ reasoning for participating in the club is much deeper, sometimes extending all the way back to elementary school.

“I was always interested in general knowledge-type competitions like ‘Jeopardy,’” said Shashank, explaining what drew him into this world.

Junior Abhinav Kurada added that he “was really into geography and trivia from a young age,” explaining that he competed in trivia competitions since he was in kindergarten, including the National Geography Bee, in which he placed fifth in the 6th grade.

Mrs. Bowen said that the club gives students who like to have the answers to everything a place to just be themselves. Team members are not afraid to be labeled with the typical stigma of “nerd” and are willing to do whatever it takes to make the team successful.

Although the team does have fun—it’s not just business—the students feed on a love for knowledge and competition.

“There are a lot of good teams around the nation so we constantly have to help one another to maintain a fighting chance,” Shashank said, reiterating that it is one of the most competitive atmospheres he knows.

Team members also mention that traveling around the region—and even the country—isn’t so bad, either. The team traveled to Washington, D.C. last month for a “history bowl” event and the Eagles walked away small-school national champions.

“I have friends from all over the country: California, Florida, Texas, Delaware,” Abhinav said.

Now it’s on to Chicago, where new friends—and perhaps another championship—await.

“The team has been working extremely hard getting to where they are today,” Mrs. Bowen said.

Ougadougou, Burkina Faso.

Next question.